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CHAPTER XXIV

Henry Crawford had quite made up his mind by the
next morning to give another fortnight to Mansfield,
and having sent for his hunters, and written a few
lines of explanation to the Admiral, he looked round at
his sister as he sealed and threw the letter from him,
and seeing the coast clear of the rest of the family,
said, with a smile, "And how do you think I mean to
amuse myself, Mary, on the days that I do not hunt?
I am grown too old to go out more than three times a week;
but I have a plan for the intermediate days, and what do you think
it is?"

"To walk and ride with me, to be sure."

"Not exactly, though I shall be happy to do both, but _that_
would be exercise only to my body, and I must take care
of my mind. Besides, _that_ would be all recreation
and indulgence, without the wholesome alloy of labour,
and I do not like to eat the bread of idleness. No, my plan
is to make Fanny Price in love with me."

"Fanny Price! Nonsense! No, no. You ought to be
satisfied with her two cousins."

"But I cannot be satisfied without Fanny Price,
without making a small hole in Fanny Price's heart.
You do not seem properly aware of her claims to notice.
When we talked of her last night, you none of you
seemed sensible of the wonderful improvement that has
taken place in her looks within the last six weeks.
You see her every day, and therefore do not notice it;
but I assure you she is quite a different creature
from what she was in the autumn. She was then merely
a quiet, modest, not plain-looking girl, but she is now
absolutely pretty. I used to think she had neither
complexion nor countenance; but in that soft skin of hers,
so frequently tinged with a blush as it was yesterday,
there is decided beauty; and from what I observed of her
eyes and mouth, I do not despair of their being capable
of expression enough when she has anything to express.
And then, her air, her manner, her _tout_ _ensemble_,
is so indescribably improved! She must be grown two inches,
at least, since October."

"Phoo! phoo! This is only because there were no tall women
to compare her with, and because she has got a new gown,
and you never saw her so well dressed before. She is
just what she was in October, believe me. The truth is,
that she was the only girl in company for you to notice,
and you must have a somebody. I have always thought
her pretty--not strikingly pretty--but 'pretty enough,'
as people say; a sort of beauty that grows on one.
Her eyes should be darker, but she has a sweet smile;
but as for this wonderful degree of improvement, I am
sure it may all be resolved into a better style of dress,
and your having nobody else to look at; and therefore,
if you do set about a flirtation with her, you never
will persuade me that it is in compliment to her beauty,
or that it proceeds from anything but your own idleness
and folly."

Her brother gave only a smile to this accusation,
and soon afterwards said, "I do not quite know what to make
of Miss Fanny. I do not understand her. I could not tell
what she would be at yesterday. What is her character?
Is she solemn? Is she queer? Is she prudish? Why did
she draw back and look so grave at me? I could hardly get
her to speak. I never was so long in company with a girl
in my life, trying to entertain her, and succeed so ill!
Never met with a girl who looked so grave on me!
I must try to get the better of this. Her looks say,
'I will not like you, I am determined not to like you';
and I say she shall."

"Foolish fellow! And so this is her attraction after all!
This it is, her not caring about you, which gives
her such a soft skin, and makes her so much taller,
and produces all these charms and graces! I do desire
that you will not be making her really unhappy;
a _little_ love, perhaps, may animate and do her good,
but I will not have you plunge her deep, for she is as
good a little creature as ever lived, and has a great
deal of feeling."

"It can be but for a fortnight," said Henry; "and if a
fortnight can kill her, she must have a constitution
which nothing could save. No, I will not do her any harm,
dear little soul! only want her to look kindly on me,
to give me smiles as well as blushes, to keep a chair
for me by herself wherever we are, and be all animation
when I take it and talk to her; to think as I think,
be interested in all my possessions and pleasures,
try to keep me longer at Mansfield, and feel when I
go away that she shall be never happy again. I want
nothing more."

"Moderation itself!" said Mary. "I can have no scruples now.
Well, you will have opportunities enough of endeavouring
to recommend yourself, for we are a great deal together."

And without attempting any farther remonstrance, she left
Fanny to her fate, a fate which, had not Fanny's heart
been guarded in a way unsuspected by Miss Crawford,
might have been a little harder than she deserved;
for although there doubtless are such unconquerable young
ladies of eighteen (or one should not read about them)
as are never to be persuaded into love against their judgment
by all that talent, manner, attention, and flattery can do,
I have no inclination to believe Fanny one of them,
or to think that with so much tenderness of disposition,
and so much taste as belonged to her, she could have
escaped heart-whole from the courtship (though the
courtship only of a fortnight) of such a man as Crawford,
in spite of there being some previous ill opinion of him
to be overcome, had not her affection been engaged elsewhere.
With all the security which love of another and disesteem
of him could give to the peace of mind he was attacking,
his continued attentions--continued, but not obtrusive,
and adapting themselves more and more to the gentleness
and delicacy of her character--obliged her very soon
to dislike him less than formerly. She had by no means
forgotten the past, and she thought as ill of him as ever;
but she felt his powers: he was entertaining; and his
manners were so improved, so polite, so seriously and
blamelessly polite, that it was impossible not to be civil
to him in return.

A very few days were enough to effect this; and at the end
of those few days, circumstances arose which had a tendency
rather to forward his views of pleasing her, inasmuch as
they gave her a degree of happiness which must dispose
her to be pleased with everybody. William, her brother,
the so long absent and dearly loved brother, was in
England again. She had a letter from him herself, a few
hurried happy lines, written as the ship came up Channel,
and sent into Portsmouth with the first boat that left
the Antwerp at anchor in Spithead; and when Crawford walked
up with the newspaper in his hand, which he had hoped
would bring the first tidings, he found her trembling
with joy over this letter, and listening with a glowing,
grateful countenance to the kind invitation which her
uncle was most collectedly dictating in reply.

It was but the day before that Crawford had made himself
thoroughly master of the subject, or had in fact become
at all aware of her having such a brother, or his being
in such a ship, but the interest then excited had been
very properly lively, determining him on his return to
town to apply for information as to the probable period
of the Antwerp's return from the Mediterranean, etc.;
and the good luck which attended his early examination
of ship news the next morning seemed the reward of his
ingenuity in finding out such a method of pleasing her,
as well as of his dutiful attention to the Admiral,
in having for many years taken in the paper esteemed
to have the earliest naval intelligence. He proved,
however, to be too late. All those fine first feelings,
of which he had hoped to be the exciter, were already given.
But his intention, the kindness of his intention,
was thankfully acknowledged: quite thankfully and warmly,
for she was elevated beyond the common timidity of her
mind by the flow of her love for William.

This dear William would soon be amongst them. There could
be no doubt of his obtaining leave of absence immediately,
for he was still only a midshipman; and as his parents,
from living on the spot, must already have seen him,
and be seeing him perhaps daily, his direct holidays
might with justice be instantly given to the sister,
who had been his best correspondent through a period of
seven years, and the uncle who had done most for his support
and advancement; and accordingly the reply to her reply,
fixing a very early day for his arrival, came as soon
as possible; and scarcely ten days had passed since Fanny
had been in the agitation of her first dinner-visit,
when she found herself in an agitation of a higher nature,
watching in the hall, in the lobby, on the stairs,
for the first sound of the carriage which was to bring her
a brother.

It came happily while she was thus waiting; and there
being neither ceremony nor fearfulness to delay the moment
of meeting, she was with him as he entered the house,
and the first minutes of exquisite feeling had no interruption
and no witnesses, unless the servants chiefly intent
upon opening the proper doors could be called such.
This was exactly what Sir Thomas and Edmund had been
separately conniving at, as each proved to the other
by the sympathetic alacrity with which they both advised
Mrs. Norris's continuing where she was, instead of rushing
out into the hall as soon as the noises of the arrival
reached them.

William and Fanny soon shewed themselves; and Sir Thomas
had the pleasure of receiving, in his protege, certainly a
very different person from the one he had equipped seven
years ago, but a young man of an open, pleasant countenance,
and frank, unstudied, but feeling and respectful manners,
and such as confirmed him his friend.

It was long before Fanny could recover from the agitating
happiness of such an hour as was formed by the last
thirty minutes of expectation, and the first of fruition;
it was some time even before her happiness could be said
to make her happy, before the disappointment inseparable
from the alteration of person had vanished, and she could
see in him the same William as before, and talk to him,
as her heart had been yearning to do through many
a past year. That time, however, did gradually come,
forwarded by an affection on his side as warm as her own,
and much less encumbered by refinement or self-distrust.
She was the first object of his love, but it was a love
which his stronger spirits, and bolder temper, made it
as natural for him to express as to feel. On the morrow
they were walking about together with true enjoyment,
and every succeeding morrow renewed a _tete-a-tete_
which Sir Thomas could not but observe with complacency,
even before Edmund had pointed it out to him.

Excepting the moments of peculiar delight, which any marked
or unlooked-for instance of Edmund's consideration of her
in the last few months had excited, Fanny had never known
so much felicity in her life, as in this unchecked, equal,
fearless intercourse with the brother and friend who was opening
all his heart to her, telling her all his hopes and fears,
plans, and solicitudes respecting that long thought of,
dearly earned, and justly valued blessing of promotion;
who could give her direct and minute information of the
father and mother, brothers and sisters, of whom she
very seldom heard; who was interested in all the comforts
and all the little hardships of her home at Mansfield;
ready to think of every member of that home as she directed,
or differing only by a less scrupulous opinion, and more
noisy abuse of their aunt Norris, and with whom (perhaps
the dearest indulgence of the whole) all the evil and
good of their earliest years could be gone over again,
and every former united pain and pleasure retraced
with the fondest recollection. An advantage this,
a strengthener of love, in which even the conjugal tie
is beneath the fraternal. Children of the same family,
the same blood, with the same first associations and habits,
have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no
subsequent connexions can supply; and it must be by a
long and unnatural estrangement, by a divorce which no
subsequent connexion can justify, if such precious remains
of the earliest attachments are ever entirely outlived.
Too often, alas! it is so. Fraternal love, sometimes
almost everything, is at others worse than nothing.
But with William and Fanny Price it was still a sentiment
in all its prime and freshness, wounded by no opposition
of interest, cooled by no separate attachment, and feeling
the influence of time and absence only in its increase.

An affection so amiable was advancing each in the opinion
of all who had hearts to value anything good. Henry Crawford
was as much struck with it as any. He honoured the
warm-hearted, blunt fondness of the young sailor, which led
him to say, with his hands stretched towards Fanny's head,
"Do you know, I begin to like that queer fashion already,
though when I first heard of such things being done
in England, I could not believe it; and when Mrs. Brown,
and the other women at the Commissioner's at Gibraltar,
appeared in the same trim, I thought they were mad; but Fanny
can reconcile me to anything"; and saw, with lively admiration,
the glow of Fanny's cheek, the brightness of her eye,
the deep interest, the absorbed attention, while her
brother was describing any of the imminent hazards,
or terrific scenes, which such a period at sea must supply.

It was a picture which Henry Crawford had moral taste enough
to value. Fanny's attractions increased--increased twofold;
for the sensibility which beautified her complexion and
illumined her countenance was an attraction in itself.
He was no longer in doubt of the capabilities of her heart.
She had feeling, genuine feeling. It would be something
to be loved by such a girl, to excite the first ardours
of her young unsophisticated mind! She interested him
more than he had foreseen. A fortnight was not enough.
His stay became indefinite.

William was often called on by his uncle to be the talker.
His recitals were amusing in themselves to Sir Thomas,
but the chief object in seeking them was to understand
the reciter, to know the young man by his histories;
and he listened to his clear, simple, spirited details with
full satisfaction, seeing in them the proof of good principles,
professional knowledge, energy, courage, and cheerfulness,
everything that could deserve or promise well.
Young as he was, William had already seen a great deal.
He had been in the Mediterranean; in the West Indies;
in the Mediterranean again; had been often taken on shore
by the favour of his captain, and in the course of seven
years had known every variety of danger which sea and war
together could offer. With such means in his power he
had a right to be listened to; and though Mrs. Norris could
fidget about the room, and disturb everybody in quest
of two needlefuls of thread or a second-hand shirt button,
in the midst of her nephew's account of a shipwreck
or an engagement, everybody else was attentive; and even
Lady Bertram could not hear of such horrors unmoved,
or without sometimes lifting her eyes from her work to say,
"Dear me! how disagreeable! I wonder anybody can ever go
to sea."

To Henry Crawford they gave a different feeling. He longed
to have been at sea, and seen and done and suffered as much.
His heart was warmed, his fancy fired, and he felt
the highest respect for a lad who, before he was twenty,
had gone through such bodily hardships and given such
proofs of mind. The glory of heroism, of usefulness,
of exertion, of endurance, made his own habits of selfish
indulgence appear in shameful contrast; and he wished
he had been a William Price, distinguishing himself and
working his way to fortune and consequence with so much
self-respect and happy ardour, instead of what he was!

The wish was rather eager than lasting. He was roused from
the reverie of retrospection and regret produced by it,
by some inquiry from Edmund as to his plans for the next
day's hunting; and he found it was as well to be a man
of fortune at once with horses and grooms at his command.
In one respect it was better, as it gave him the means
of conferring a kindness where he wished to oblige.
With spirits, courage, and curiosity up to anything,
William expressed an inclination to hunt; and Crawford could
mount him without the slightest inconvenience to himself,
and with only some scruples to obviate in Sir Thomas,
who knew better than his nephew the value of such a loan,
and some alarms to reason away in Fanny. She feared
for William; by no means convinced by all that he could
relate of his own horsemanship in various countries,
of the scrambling parties in which he had been engaged,
the rough horses and mules he had ridden, or his many narrow
escapes from dreadful falls, that he was at all equal to the
management of a high-fed hunter in an English fox-chase;
nor till he returned safe and well, without accident
or discredit, could she be reconciled to the risk,
or feel any of that obligation to Mr. Crawford for lending
the horse which he had fully intended it should produce.
When it was proved, however, to have done William no harm,
she could allow it to be a kindness, and even reward
the owner with a smile when the animal was one minute
tendered to his use again; and the next, with the
greatest cordiality, and in a manner not to be resisted,
made over to his use entirely so long as he remained
in Northamptonshire.




Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
Book Review:
“Mansfield Park” is the most condensed and complex novel ever written by Jane Austen, and is her first novel that was conceived, written, and published at her mature years. Even though it lacks in the playful ironic humor which is so characteristic of Austen’s other novels, it is the novel that most clearly shows another aspect of the writer
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